Some injured babies at area hospitals have trouble breathing after getting wet and spending the night under heavy winds. Older residents are also walking into health facilities suffering respiratory problems such as asthma. Thousands left homeless are sleeping in crowded tents and under canopies, at risk of contracting diseases, including COVID-19.
“Everything [all illnesses] can get worse,” said Jean Vionel Caton, administrator of OFATMA Hospital in Les Cayes, a city in the Southern department. “When people ask me ‘How are you?’ I can’t say the usual ‘I’m good.’ The earthquake caused so much chaos.”
At least 12,268 people were injured after a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti’s southwest region the morning of Aug. 14. Then, Tropical Storm Grace passed through Monday night, dumping between 5 to 15 inches of rain across the South.
The scores of health workers who have responded so far, with limited medical supplies and insufficient facilities, are feeling the pressure after days and days without proper reinforcements in either staffing or supplies.
To add to the physical injuries, Caton and other responders said, the earthquake also provoked or exacerbated other illnesses plaguing survivors. Numerous residents living with high blood pressure and diabetes have complained of changes in their health vitals. After losing loved ones or not knowing whether they will find housing again, the level of stress from emotional distress is on the rise. Pregnant women are in need of gynecological care, health officials said.
Representatives of Haiti’s government have not responded to repeated requests for comment or interviews with officials about their response to the earthquake.
As of Thursday, OFATMA had about 100 patients and 60 health workers, Caton said. OFATMA can still welcome more patients. Patients are being treated outside the hospital since the building is damaged. Caton said the hospital has enough medical supplies and expects to receive more.
Fednol Estinvil, a taxi driver from Les Cayes, went to the OFATMA hospital for a second time Thursday. A cement block had fallen on his foot while he was running out of his home during the earthquake. OFATMA workers wrapped his foot initially, but he returned Thursday because of ongoing pain.
“Thank God I didn’t die,” Estinvil said in a WhatsApp call as he sat at OFATMA. “But my foot is still hurting a lot — it wasn’t a small cement brick. I’ve been walking on one foot.”
Many other survivors went to OFATMA after spending days under rubble, seeking treatment for wounds that were infected. Other victims wounds were infected because they could not be treated properly at another health facility they visited. With facilities being over capacity, OFATMA surgeons have also done surgery, Caton said.
Meanwhile, in small facilities without surgeons or enough medications and equipment, some health workers feel under-utilized to some extent.
“As a doctor, I feel invalid,” said Dr. Murline Denis, who has been working at a Hope for Haiti clinic that opened Monday. “I feel incompetent and people’s lives are on the line. Since we weren’t prepared for an earthquake we don’t have enough material. We usually have more but because Martissant has been dangerous so we couldn’t go get more [before the earthquake].”
A man, who had a piece of wood stuck in his neck, visited the Hope for Haiti clinic earlier this week. Although he removed the piece of wood, the clinics’ workers were not able to treat him since he needs surgery, said Dr. Denis, a general doctor. They referred him to Brenda Strafford Hospital since he suffered a neck injury.
Dr. Denis said the supplies they have could last until Sunday but they were supposed to receive more Friday.
Hope for Haiti opened that clinic Monday — even though there’s water on the floor after the ground cracked open. Its health workers have mainly been treating patients with minor physical injuries but they’ve also been seeing people with asthma and whose high blood pressure and blood sugar levels rose.
“People are scared, they’re not seeing a way out, they don’t know what to do and that raised their blood pressure,” Dr. Denis said.
Scores of residents still haven’t received tents so they’re hopeless and feel left out by the government.
“We need somewhere to sleep,” said a woman in a Laurore News TV video posted online. “We don’t need rice, God can make a way for us to get rice, we need tents. They’re doing favoritism when they’re giving out tents.”
Health workers from Les Cayes have also been working while suffering from their own mental challenges. Dr. Denis had to run to a corner in her room when the earthquake struck. Her home was partially damaged, so she’s sleeping at her mother’s house. She was deeply worried for two other women she lived with who weren’t at home during the earthquake. But she later found out they’re alive and weren’t injured.
As for other Hope for Haiti employees, many have lost loved ones.
“Some of them [Hope for Haiti staff members] lost friends or a parent,” said Jean Ronald Jocelyn, Hope for Haiti’s Education Program Director in Les Cayes. “But fortunately they’re not physically hurt so they can help their brothers and sisters who were hurt during the earthquake.”
Jocelyn himself had to carry his elderly godmother out of their home during the earthquake. He later had to sleep on the roof of a house that collapsed since his home was unlivable.
In the midst of these many challenges, a survivor’s story or someone whose healing is cherished among health workers. One of the many positive stories is the one of a resident who returned to Hope for Haiti’s clinic to tell Dr. Denis that he feels much better and is even able to move his foot. A cemented block had fallen on his hip.
“He told me ‘I couldn’t move my foot at all, but I got up to go get water to shower,’” Dr. Denis said. “That made me smile, I felt useful and was satisfied.”
Some health workers and survivors hope that these positive stories will build up to the point that things will get back to normal.
“God was with me and I didn’t die during the earthquake, I think he will get me out of this tent too,” Estinvil said.